Piano teachers everywhere are looking for ideas on how to teach beginner and elementary students online. By far, this will be the most challenging demographic to engage with remote teaching.
In this post you’ll find ideas, then detailed information in linked articles. Sometimes it might seem overwhelming to have so many choices and you might worry that you’re not doing enough. My best advice is to introduce one thing at a time to give yourself and your students a chance to pace it and take the pressure off. Breathe deeply. Just being there is sometimes enough. You’ve got this! ~ Rebekah
Tips to get started:
- Familiarize yourself with online teaching in general. Resources are listed at the conclusion of this post.
- Ask if a parent can be present with the child in the remote location (i.e. the child’s home) during the lesson. The parent will better understand your directions and help facilitate.
- Be ready with enriching activities that work well by video chat.
- Each week, know the opening activity for each level of students. If the activity requires your students to have special materials on hand at home, send one (blind-copied) email to all students of that level to simplify your planning, even if you teach them one-on-one.
Students of all ages
Pen pal letters
Ever want to beat the “solitary-piano-lesson” blues? Here’s a social activity for your studio that’s off the beaten path — pen pal letters! This blog post has been updated with ideas on how to adapt pen pal letters to the email format. Get connected! Your students will love this activity!
Reflecting on gratitude
“Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.” ~ Harvard Health Publishing. This art activity asks you and your students to take time to reflect on your musical blessings. When you finish the statement, “Because of PIANO, I get to…” you will shine a light on gratitude. This will boost your mood and it’s good for your health! Don’t wait for Thanksgiving! Maybe you need this now!
Student care package
With online lessons several things are missing: adding stickers, placing sticky-notes on pages to make them easy to find and a myriad of other little special touches. You can recreate some of this by delivering care packages to your students that contain useful and fun things they can do at home, like adding their own stickers! Special delivery! If it is not advisable for you to deliver physically, consider emailing virtual stickers, links to games and worksheets.
Home-style music festival
When your student is ready to perform, encourage them to plan a music festival at home! Email them the Home Adjudication Kit from my Printables. The options are endless, and it can be as simple or as fancy as the family wants! They may wish to plan their ‘home festival’ at a time when everyone in their household can attend, as well as grandparents on zoom, or just for one “adjudicator” parent or sibling. It could be an occasion to dress up and have a reception with punch and goodies! The element of the festival comes in because one person is the designated adjudicator who writes up an adjudication, on a sheet from FREE printables.
Organ for keyboards
For students learning at home on digital keyboards, you could plan a special exploratory on the organ. Even without pedals, students can learn a lot about the sounds and touch of playing the organ. Use two FREE printable sheets for support, one with organ finger technique exercises, the other, the Extraordinary History of the Pipe Organ. The link below may also be shared with students, as it has YouTube performances on organs and replica organs from over 2,300 years of the instrument’s development. Kids think it’s cool!
Beginners up to age 6
Flash Card Bunny Bluff
From Melanie Young comes this printable bunny game! Preparation: Print and cut out the bunny pieces. Materials: 1) Flash cards at your student’s level, 2) a white board, 3) the bunny parts cut out. Here’s how to play: Hold a flash card up to your camera so your student can see it. If they identify it correctly, add a part to the bunny by sticking it on your white board! (Used by permission with thanks to Melanie Young.)
Lesson task counters
Is your young student having difficulty staying focused in your lessons? You could ask their parent helper to place glass beads or pennies or game pieces on one side of the piano. Then, for each lesson task completed, the student could move a bead or piece to the other side of the piano. See how many can be “completed” or collected by lesson’s end! It’s like a game! (Thanks to Krissy Keech and the Scotia Suzuki School of Music for this idea.)
Beginners ages 7 to 9
Pentatonic Scale Composition
Songwriting game with coloured balls! Each coloured ball represents a note of the pentatonic scale! This activity encourages chance creativity (drawing balls from a hat) and gives opportunity to teach tonic and dominant.
Students ages 10 and up
The Build Your Rhythm composition starter can be done with students age 10 and up (or with Beginner and Elementary students of any age). You can teach this even if you have never composed. In lesson 1 your online student may simply make rhythm cards, then complete more for theory homework between lessons. In follow-up lessons guide your student to do only one step per lesson, first only creating rhythms with cards and then progressing to writing them on paper, then putting one of them to a tune.
- Want to compose music? Steps 1 to 4 help you begin [Printables]
- Composing music? Steps 5 to 8 make your piece longer [Printables]
- 6 steps to Improvising and Composing left hand piano [Printables]
Have a warm-up unit on 2nd and 4th intervals! Teach these two intervals by ear, teach technical warm-ups and compare and contrast them in reading. Then, there’s a bonus challenge of playing a Star Wars tune by ear that uses 2nds and 4ths! There’s a playful “May the 4th be with you” theme to these printable worksheets!
For zoom group lessons, plan student piano performances. Give a music festival twist to the activity! Plan this when your students have performance-ready pieces. Let students know ahead of time and email them the FREE printable Student Adjudication Sheet so they have it printed and ready to go for the group lesson (perhaps several copies). They’ll need pencils and erasers at the ready. They may want to dress up and decorate their pianos in true “festival” style. Let one student perform at a time, while the others write comments. (*Note: you may invite only one or two to perform per group lesson to spread it out and leave time for other activities.) At the end of the lesson, students can email photos of the comment sheets to the teacher for distribution. This checks two boxes: it gives a performance opportunity and gets students to think about the music they hear and encourage one another.
Elementary students and up
Rote playing, home duet
Heart and Soul is an uplifting duet that brings people together! Teach it by rote to your students with a series of helpful videos and free printable sheets. Then your students can teach it to family members at home (even if they don’t play much piano) and play the duet together! This ten-part series even comes with duet videos that students can play along with if they don’t have duet partners at home. Beyond the duet: teach primary chords, transposition, relative minors, improvisation, and composition. Here’s the link to get started:
Interval Dash can be adapted to online teaching. Prior to your week of lessons, send a group email (blind copied) to your students of this level. Simply ask your students to have squares of construction paper or coloured markers ready prior to their lesson so you can guide them. Teach only one or two intervals at a time, (and make only one or two squares at a time) to keep the activity within a reasonable timeframe for one lesson.
In all styles of music, the three chords that are played the most are called the Primary Chords. Heart and Soul can teach students: the sounds of the primary chords, where to play them in the key of C, and how they sound in a progression. Includes a FREE printable and video tutorial.
LH Patterns, Improvising, Composing
Left hand patterns develop coordination, teach patterns that students will find in music they learn and helps them when it comes to creativity, improvising and composing. Teach one pattern every week or two! Right hand can learn them, too!
Transposing music to a new range or key helps students become versatile. Heart and Soul is a great intro! Learning this even teaches the primary chords in a new key! This comes with a FREE printable and tutorial video which make it easier to teach transposing in online lessons.
Elements and outcomes
Give your students the opportunity to keep track of what they’re learning in their repertoire. This sheet can give them an overview of the musical elements they are learning, which turns into a fun treasure hunt. How many time signatures, key signatures, tempos, composers and styles have they covered? What important transferable skills are they learning, and most importantly, how does each piece touch their heart? There’s a FREE printable for each level.
Students can explore the two sides of every key signature: the relative major and the relative minor! Heart and Soul holds an interesting clue to figuring this out by ear and through keyboard harmony! This comes with a FREE printable and tutorial video to support teaching this online!
Resources for Online Teaching
Carly Walton’s Teach Music Online. Carly and Carol Matz have teamed up with a special package to help teachers make the transition to online teaching.
Bradley Sowash Music. Bradley teaches group jazz classes online and has taught piano teachers how to give online lessons. If you’d like to see replays, contact him.
Jennifer Foxx of Music Educator Resources has developed a course entitled Getting over the fear of teaching online and video lessons.
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I appreciate shares, comments and likes. Happy teaching!
Video of the week
Elvis Presley How About a Date? (Elementary, Level 1) is a fun piece that reinforces lots of intervals! from Rock this Town, 11 Elementary piano works, solos and duets. Or, check out the studio-licensed eSheet for Elvis Presley How About a Date!